Tribune leader, 22 January 1993

Saddam Hussein is, as we all know, a brutal dictator. His regime is one of the most oppressive in the world. Worse, nothing seems to change it.
In the past two years, Saddam has sur­vived military defeat, creation of Kurdish safe havens, destruction of the worst of his war machine by the United Nations, sanctions and “no-fly zones” – and he is still as prepared to push his luck diplo­matically and militarily as he ever was. There can be no doubt that his behaviour in the run-up to last week’s raid on his country by American warplanes was de­signed to provoke a showdown.
Bui none of this provides an adequate rationale for the raids on Iraq. However frustrated the rest of the world might be with Saddam, a demonstration of Ameri­can airpower (backed rather half-heart­edly by Britain and France) is not the way either to undermine his power or to get him to change.
Indeed, the raids were precisely what Saddam needed to renew his credibility among his subjects as a defender of the Arab nation against the imperialist west. They were not full-scale war (which would be somewhat difficult for the allied governments to sell back home) but they were big enough to give fright (and kill civilians). Nothing could have suited Sad­dam better.
More important, the raids have only the weakest of justifications in international law. The “no-fly zones” in northern and southern Iraq that they were designed to enforce have not been backed by the UN: they were imposed by the US, Britain and France without any reference to the UN. Yet they seem to carry far more weight than many UN resolutions – particularly those on Israel.
In short, the raids have strengthened Saddam and reinforced the impression throughout the Third World that the west operates an imperialist policy based on double standards and flouting the law when it suits it. As such, they sum up per­fectly George Bush’s approach to foreign policy since he entered public life. Is it too much to hope that Bill Clinton really will turn out to be a new broom?
Bill Clinton’s inauguration was just the sort of feel-good event that every­one expected it to be. But he does not have much time to get things right. His victory has raised expectations across the board in America, particularly among those who have been hit by recession in the past couple of years. If he does not get the economy working again, and fast, his honeymoon will be short and the disillu­sionment deep.
Of course, no one knows whether he will succeed or not – a fact that makes much of the British Labour Party’s argument about what Mr Clinton can teach it little more than hot air. Within six months, Mr Clinton could be completely discredited, completely vindicated or, more likely, something in between.
Nevertheless, there are good reasons for working on the assumption that Mr Clinton will not work miracles. Most im­portant, the US economy is in a dire state and there are few indications that “Clintonomics” has any real answer to the economic challenges posed by the Japanese sphere of influence, to the de­cay of the inner cities or to the burgeon­ing budget deficit. His policies on health and welfare are unimaginative and con­servative.
But the problems do not stop with domestic policy. Mr Clinton has given only the vaguest of signs that he wants to change the basis of American foreign poli­cy away from the shabby realpolitik in­herited from the cold war years and be­fore. Most worrying, he has given good reason for the world to suspect that he will be even easier on Israel than his pre­decessor.
It will be a little while before we can judge Mr Clinton fairly on his record. But signs of his direction will be clear within three or four months. The European left can hope for the best, but it must also keep an open mind and avoid the tempta­tion to kow-tow to Washington’s new boss.
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